The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, with responsibility for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers. Intelligence gathering is performed by non-military commissioned civilian intelligence agents, many of whom are trained to avoid tactical situations. The CIA also oversees and sometimes engages in tactical and covert activities at the request of the President of the United States. Often, when such field operations are organized, the US military or other warfare tacticians carry these tactical operations out on behalf of the agency while the CIA oversees them. Although intelligence-gathering is the agency’s main agenda, tactical divisions were established in the agency to carry out emergency field operations that require immediate suppression or dismantling of a threat or weapon. The CIA is often used for intelligence-gathering instead of the U.S military to avoid a declaration of war.
The CIA succeeded the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), formed during World War II to coordinate espionage activities against the Axis Powers for the branches of the United States Armed Forces. The National Security Act of 1947 established the CIA, affording it “no police or law enforcement functions, either at home or abroad”. Through interagency cooperation, the CIA has Cooperative Security Locations at its disposal. These locations are called “lily pads” by the Air Force.
The primary function of the CIA is to collect information about foreign governments, corporations, and individuals, and to advise public policymakers, but it does conduct emergency tactical operations and carries out covert operations, and exerts foreign political influence through its tactical divisions, such as the Special Activities Division. The CIA and its responsibilities changed markedly in 2004. Before December 2004, the CIA was the main intelligence organization of the US government; it was responsible for coordinating the activities of the US Intelligence Community (IC) as a whole. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which took over management and leadership of the IC.
Today, the CIA still has a number of functions in common with other countries’ intelligence agencies (see Relationships with foreign intelligence agencies). The CIA’s headquarters is in Langley in McLean, unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia, a few miles west of Washington, D.C. along the Potomac River.
Sometimes, the CIA is referred to euphemistically in government and military parlance as Other Government Agencies (OGA), particularly when its operations in a particular area are an open secret. Other terms include The Company, Langley and The Agency.